Using interactive simulations to enhance Students’ explanations regarding physical Phenomena
The objective of this research was to investigate the effects of Interactive Computer-Based Simulations (ICBSs) on student’s ability to give “scientifically accepted” explanations regarding physical phenomena in Mechanics, Waves/Optics, and Thermal Physics. Four subtopics were presented within each of the three main topics. There was one Interactive Computer-Based Simulation (ICBS) with relevant physics content for each subtopic. Theoretically, each of the ICBSs should serve as a cognitive framework to enhance students’ explanations regarding physical phenomena in Mechanics, Waves/Optics, and Thermal Physics. To test this theoretical prediction a self-controlled design was used, where each of the subjects served as his/her own control. A random block design was used where each of the subjects was assigned alternatingly to the experimental and control conditions. The control condition was an assignment to do additional problems in the same content area as the ICBS and required approximately the same amount of time. The ICBSs were integrated into a sixteen-week semester physics content class for prospective physics teachers who served as students in the study. The course used a conceptually oriented approach. After using the ICBS, or for the control condition after doing the additional problem sets, semi structured interviews were obtained. These interview data were used to assess the students’ ability to give scientifically acceptable explanations of discrepancies between their predictions and observations following the use of the ICBS. Results indicated that the use of ICBSs in comparison to the control conditions improved students’ ability to give “scientifically acceptable” explanations regarding physical phenomena in Mechanics, Waves/Optics, and Thermal Physics.